One of Mitt Romney’s biggest weaknesses as a candidate is his Mormonism.
An astounding 40% of Americans can’t imagine electing a Mormon president, according to a recent study by the Public Religion Research Institute — something the Church of Latter-Day Saints is working hard to change with its “I am Mormon” ad campaign.
But Mormonism may also hold the key to Romney’s greatest strength.
As a 19-year-old, he went through the church’s gruelling missionary training program, which you might call executive training camp. His assignment was in France, which was not particularly open to the religion, and Romney has said it was the only time in his life where “most of what I was trying to do was rejected.”
The New York Times reports that “his sojourn through Paris and Provo, Utah, redoubled both his faith and his ambition. Missionary work gave him his first taste of power and responsibility, eventually overseeing the work of 175 peers. As president of the premier social club at Brigham Young, he first displayed a knack for fund-raising, bringing the university more than $1 million.” A few decades later, Romney would lead Bain & Co.
Many of our country’s highest-ranking executives are Mormon — including those at major corporations like Marriott International, Dell, Deloitte, PriceWaterhouse Coopers, for starters — and there’s JetBlue founder David Neeleman and Gary Crittenden, former CFO for Citigroup and American Express. Many of these guys also went on their own missions trips.
“I don’t think there’s any more demanding profession than being a Mormon missionary,” Harvard Business School professor (and Mormon) Clayton Christenson told Businessweek.
There, 'they prepare to become messengers of the Lord, bringing glad tidings to families around the world,' according to Provo's website.
'The MTC curriculum consists of up to 12 weeks of studying doctrine, learning to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ effectively, and developing excellent communication skills. When missionaries are called to serve in foreign lands, their training also includes learning a new language.'
The other 20% head to training centres in Buenos Aires, Seoul and Manila, among other far-off places.
'Using state-of-the-art language training technology, the Provo MTC fulfils the prophecy that 'every man shall hear the fullness of the gospel in his own tongue . . . through those who are ordained unto this power' (D&C 90:11)' (MTC).
The intensive language training prepares the Mormons for their missions abroad. Bloomberg reports that Neeleman served in Brazil, and after founding JetBlue, he launched Azul Airlines, a domestic Brazilian carrier.
Huntsman served in Taiwan.
These twelve apostles have also experienced worldly success. Take Neil Andersen, who earned an MBA from Harvard Business School and became VP of the Morton Plant Health System.
Andersen was elected to the 'Quorum of Twelve' in 2009.
Men are strongly encouraged to do the training; women serve voluntarily and only make up 20% of the service
This has to do with the Mormon church's beliefs about the role of females in the household. Bloomberg reports that in his 2007 book The Mormon Way of Doing Business, Jeff Benedict says 'the wives' deep commitment to the home ... is vital to the success of these CEOs' performance at work.'
Men are called 'Elders' and women are called 'Sisters.' And whereas men can apply for the program at 19, women can enter at 21.
According to the BBC, about 40% of Mormon males are missionaries.
This includes conservative dark pants and a suit coat for men, and a modest dress for women. Anything fashionable is forbidden. The missionary handbook explicitly states:
'Extreme of faddish styles, including bowl cuts, crew cuts, shaved or bleached hair, or wet-look styles, are unacceptable.'
For many Mormons, dressing up for 730 days straight makes for a smoother transition to the professional world.
Each young Mormon lives with a companion -- whom they proselytize with for 10 hours/day, six days/week
They're called 'companionships.' Throughout the course of a mission, one rotates through two or three companions, which 'forces the development of interpersonal skills,' Joseph Ogden, assistant dean of BYU's Marriott School told Businessweek.
There's no access to the news, and missionaries are allowed only two calls home each year -- on Christmas and Mother's Day
'My missionary experience obliterated class distinction for me,' he says. 'I learned to treat everyone the same. If anything, I have a disdain for the upper class and people who think they are better than others.'
Neeleman's perspective is evident in JetBlue's business approach. There is no first-class section on JetBlue planes. All seats are sold at the same price. All passengers receive the same treatment and are referred to as 'customers.'
For the entire two years, missionaries aren't allowed to date -- or even flirt for that matter, according to the missionary guidebook
This aligns with the church's teaching on chastity and marriage.
Kristen DeTienne, a professor at BYU, told Bloomberg that she 'knows several executives at top companies who express enthusiasm about hiring Mormon employees, in part because they are often faithfully married.'
This teaches young Mormons the power of persuasion. In 1986, there were 6.3 baptisms per missionary, whereas today there are approximately 5.1 baptisms per missionary.
Businessweek reported on how Romney proselytized:
Eager to move up through the missionary ranks, he experimented with innovative means of getting out the Mormon Word, like hosting 'American night' at a local café and staging an exhibition baseball game. According to The Washington Post, he also pitched articles about Mormons to newspapers and even tried proselytizing at bars.
But the surge of new missionaries since the 1970s can be traced to another guy: Mormon prophet Spencer W. Kimball, who 'issued a call to all young men of the Church, calling them to serve full-time missions.'
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